CASE CLOSED … what really happened in the 2001 anthrax attacks?

* DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE NOTICE OF ERRATA filed July 19, 2011

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 20, 2011

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6 Responses to “* DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE NOTICE OF ERRATA filed July 19, 2011”

  1. DXer said

    Judith Boice from Lansing described to me that Bioport employees would visit Bruce and Pat in Frederick. And she mentioned Dr. Ezzell also.

    But did Bioport have Ames anthrax?

    Was Dr. Friedlander at his deposition merely relying on the entry in the RMR Flask 1029 record that said “Bioport rabbit challenge”?

    Or does he independently know of a transfer to Bioport.

    Note that the same owner of Bioport owns Porton Down which did work with powdered anthrax supplied by Bruce Ivins.

    Certainly, the record evidence in the Stevens v. United States point to triable issues on this question of Bioport and Ames.

    It was negligent, without more, for the USG to allow the former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff to be gifted a substantial ownership share.

    His defense was that he didn’t have to do anything for it. (I’m not kidding).

    The usual rules do not apply to government employees if they have sufficient power and influence.

    WALL STREET JOURNAL
    December 24, 2001
    Commentary

    by Edward Jay Epstein

    The government seems hell-bent in its effort to limit the suspects in the anthrax mystery to a domestic loner. First, the FBI’s behavioral analysis came up with the profile of a lone wolf based on its “exacting handwriting and linguistic analysis” of one letter that contained 18 words and another that contained 27 words. It suggested that the writer of these two letters was a single disgruntled American, not connected to the jihadist terrorists of Sept. 11 (even though the letter used the plural pronoun “we” and began with an underlined “9-11”).

    The problem is that this approach could not apply to the attacks for which no letter was found, such as the one in Florida. More important, the “lone wolf” theory failed to explain how a single person could acquire a virulent strain of Ames bacteria and weaponize it into an aerosol by milling the spore to one to five microns in diameter and producing billions of spores.

    Initially, the FBI theorized that this strain was widely available, since it had been circulated to thousands of researchers, but this confused the nonvirulent Ames strain (which lacked an outer protective shells and toxic proteins) with the virulent one contained in the letters. As it turned out, only a small number of repositories — fewer than 20 — ever had access to the virulent strain. The search might have been narrowed down to a single repository if the FBI had not allowed an Agriculture Department facility at Iowa State to destroy through incineration the specimens that constituted the “family tree” of the Ames strain (which had originally been found in 1932 in Ames, Iowa).

    Next, an analysis at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff found that the DNA of the anthrax used in the attacks was indistinguishable from an Ames strain sample provided by the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease at Fort Detrick, Md. At this point, the White House spokesman Ari Fleischer commented that the “evidence is increasingly looking like” the anthrax-laced letters came from a domestic source.

    This assumption is premature. The virulent strain of the Ames virus is also found abroad.

    David Franz, who headed the biological-research program at Fort Detrick between 1987 and 1998, said that when the Army wanted to conduct defensive experiment on the Ames strain, it had to obtain the “information” from a British military lab that did experiments with Ames anthrax in the powdered form. Evidently, the virulent Ames strain had been sent from the U.S. to Britain, and, after the U.S. destroyed its stockpiles in the 1970s, samples had to be obtained from the British facility at Porton Downs, specifically from the Center for Applied Microbiology and Research (CAMR). Martin Hugh-Jones, a scientist at Lousiana State University who received a sample from CAMR in the 1990s, recalls that it was marked “October, 1932.” So the matching sample traces not only to the U.S. but to Britain.

    The security of the British anthrax bacteria is complicated by its privatization. In 1993, at the time it was supplying the virulent Ames strain sample, CAMR was partly privatized by the British government through a marketing agreement with Porton Products Ltd. in which Porton sold all its anthrax vaccine. Porton Products was owned by Speywood Holdings Ltd., which, in turn, was owned by I&F Holdings NV, a Netherlands Antilles corporate shell owned by Fuad El-Hibri, a Lebanese Arab with joint German-U.S. citizenship; his father, Ibrihim El-Hibri; and possibly other undisclosed investors.

    Prior to his taking over this biotech company, Fuad El-Hibri had worked in the mergers-and-acquisitions department of Citibank in Jedda, Saudi Arabia, where he specialized in arranging investments for large Saudi investors. Saudi Arabia then was interested in obtaining an anthrax vaccine to counter Saddam Hussein’s biological warfare capabilities. But the U.S. would not provide it.

    So when Mr. El-Hibri took over the British biotech lab, he reorganized its bio-terrorism defense business, and arranged deliveries of biotech defense products to Saudi Arabia. Mr. El-Hibri was unavailable for comment, but the ownership is a matter of record and he has not made a secret of his involvement in bio-warfare research. Indeed, he testified before Congress in 1999: “I participated in the marketing and distribution of substantial quantities of two bio-defense vaccines — botulinum Type A and anthrax.”

    Even more intriguing, Mr. El-Hibri’s interest in anthrax vaccines did not stop with his deal with CAMR. In 1998, he arranged a leveraged buyout of the Michigan Biological Products Institute. MBPI, which originally had been owned by the state of Michigan, held the exclusive contract for providing the U.S. government with anthrax vaccine. While its vaccine worked well against the Vollum strain of anthrax (used by Russia), it was more problematic against the Ames strain. So it had conducted tests with the virulent Ames strain on guinea pigs, mice and monkeys with mixed results. BioPort’s spokeperson confirmed that it had access to the virulent Ames strain for testing on animals. To take over MBPI, Mr. El-Hibri became an American citizen, and gave retired Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a large block of stock in Intervac, one of the corporations involved in the maneuver. The controlling shareholder was the same I&F Holdings used to take control of the British biotech lab, CAMR. He then renamed the company BioPort. BioPort, which controlled America’s anthrax vaccine, was apparently of some interests to scientists in Afghanistan since an environmental assessment report of its planned laboratory renovations was turned up in the house of a Pakistani scientist in Kabul.

    So far, the offshore availability of anthrax has been overshadowed by the search for a domestic lone wolf. Since the lethal bacteria could have been stolen from either a foreign or domestic lab, weaponized in a stealthed bio-warfare facility overseas and sent in ziplock bags to the person mailing the letters, The investigative focus needs to be widened.

  2. DXer said

    Here is the US Department of Justice Statement of Facts that it alleges are not in genuine dispute.

    https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/217092-doc-154-1.html

  3. DXer said

    Emptywheel makes a sophisticated point regarding some still-existing confusion in the record regarding whether there was distribution to Bioport.

    DOJ: These Aren’t the BioPort Spores You’re Looking For

    Posted on July 19, 2011 by emptywheel
    http://www.emptywheel.net/2011/07/19/doj-these-arent-the-bioport-spores-youre-looking-for/

    Here is the unredacted Flask 1029 record. As I recall, this blog’s source at the time was a former USAMRIID scientist (given the Army had only given me a redacted copy).

    https://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/2009/07/25/usamriid-rmr-records-flask-1029/

    From the perspective of a motion for summary judgment, it creates a triable issue of fact likely to be raised by plaintiff in defeat of the motion.

    If the DOJ does not now how to accurately characterize the facts, a District Court will be loathe to pick one of the varying characterizations and deem it uncontroverted.

    As to where the “Bioport rabbit challenge” was conducted, that would require a phone inquiry because it presently is uncertain. I spoke to a Bioport scientist living in Michigan and she described her visits to USAMRIID to meet Dr. Ivins and his colleagues. She would be a great interview. She thinks Dr. Ivins is innocent.

    Lab notes and emails are an alternative and the preferred source of resolving it but I have not studied them yet on this question, dating back to December 2000. The emails and maybe even the lab notes now are online at USAMRIID’s FOIA website.

    Be sure to hug a USAMRIID FOIA officer today because that office really is an example of FOIA operating at a high level of efficiency – once the office was freed from layers of review by Army and DOJ lawyers.

    One good document person at the scene working on a tasked FOIA request is more important than all the Blue Ribbon committees spending months and a million dollars.

    But the DOJ does make the change in their errata… which conflicts with Dr. Friedlander’s testimony…which was based on the plain language of the 1029 record… as brilliantly pointed out by Emptywheel…

    and so at the least there is a triable issue of fact that will be raised by the Plaintiff in defending against the motion for summary judgment.

    For Emptywheel to focus on this December 2000 phrase is good observation … but it still is a triable issue of fact as to where the Bioport challenge was conducted and no reporter should jump to the conclusion that there was a distribution to Bioport. Bioport’s position has long been that they only ever had Vollum there. (On the subject of lax security, Dr. Ivins was especially disdainful of the security there… where items would be delivered internally and left outside the door in the hallway).

    Bottom-line:

    The readers of the blog are mainly interested in where the Ames went… rather than phrasing in the legal document and the posture of a civil suit. And I think checking the lab notes and/or emails would reveal the Bioport rabbit challenge to have been done at USAMRIID… rather than Bioport or Covance or Battelle.

    • DXer said

      Ivins emails about a December 2000 rabbit challenge.

      From: Ivins, Bruce E Dr USAMRIID
      To:
      Cc:
      Subject: RE: IPT Conference Call Agenda
      Date: Wednesday, November 29, 2000 3:07:11 PM
      and I will be at another meeting during the IPT conference call tomorrow. There is no more
      recent information from us on spore studies. We are preparing spores for the challenge of the rabbits
      starting December 5.
      – Bruce


      From: Ivins, Bruce E Dr USAMRIID
      To:
      Subject: RE: A 2001
      Date: Monday, December 04, 2000 3:48:56 PM
      H

      ___ [Pat presmably] and I are involved in a rabbit aerosol on Tuesday and Thursday of this week, and Monday
      and Wednesday of next week, but another day would be fine.
      – Bruce

  4. DXer said

    The lawyers are characterizing the evidence. For journalists to not be quoting the evidence (here the deposition transcripts) is to miss the point entirely. Here, the Little deposition is even more concrete and illuminating than the Worsham’s testimony.

    U.S. Revises Its Response to Lawsuit on Anthrax
    By SCOTT SHANE
    Published: July 19, 2011

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/20/us/20anthrax.html

    And if the lawyers are not accurately characterizing the evidence, then first, that should be the story, and second, it defeats their motion for summary judgment.

    Scott, who has major chops in this matter given the depth of his experience on these issues, might have more usefully quoted the Little deposition and the evidence.

    Now if there are factual questions relating to the means of drying (and there are), then by all means, there is a triable issue of fact and so let’s get the show on the road and turn to the lab notes showing the reason Dr. Ivins was in the lab on those dates and where he was physically.

    • DXer said

      Note that Scott might not have gotten as excited about the dramatic deposition testimony by Little and Worsham because he was the one who first raised the issue in a brilliant September 2008 article. I believe he relied on Dr. Andrews and others. But he was making the same point about the lyophilized being in the hallway — and just didn’t have the benefit of the transcript from a deposition. He did it the old-fashioned way. He interviewed the scientists.

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